The “keep it simple” versus “get it right” debate on how the reformed common agricultural policy (CAP) should be implemented in Scotland has seen angry reactions surface this week on both the speed and direction taken by the decision-making process.
Following last week’s meeting with stakeholder groups, many of the criticisms appear to centre on the perceived desire of Scottish Government officials to put ease of operation and avoidance of EU fines ahead of the desire of various sectors to see made-to-measure solutions to underlying problems.
However, NFU Scotland yesterday highlighted an opportunity which could meet the approval of both camps.
In a briefing to cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead, the union highlighted the fact that changes to the land eligibility criteria offered the opportunity to significantly reduce red tape for farmers.
And claiming that adopting changes available under the new CAP offered a “win-win” situation, the union said that the new eligibility rules would also relieve the Scottish Government’s rural payments and inspections directorate from both administrative costs and the risks of disallowance.
Union president Nigel Miller, pictured, said: “The current rules require claimants to map every area of ineligible land such as gorse, bracken, scree, track and pond in support of claims. Asking farmers to quantify such ineligible features over Scotland’s farming landscape has been an almost impossible challenge.”
He said that despite this, any discrepancies found on an inspection could result in penalties.
Miller also said that worries about avoiding payment penalties had encouraged farmers to remove landscape features which greening policies had been designed to protect.
“In Brussels, we proposed the inclusion of features eligible under the ecological focus areas (EFAs) requirements as eligible land and the introduction of tolerances or coefficients to avoid complex mapping but still recognise when landscape features are part of a land parcel,” said Miller.
“The commission has responded positively. EFAs features are now considered eligible and a coefficient mechanism can allow land parcels which are 90 per cent eligible land to be accepted as 100 per cent eligible.”
Miller said that such flexibility was a true simplification which benefited farmers and the department – while protecting biodiversity and landscape values.
“It is imperative that they are built in to Scotland’s implementation of the CAP reforms package to optimise both environmental and production outcomes,” he added.
• Earlier in the week the Scottish Beef Association (SBA) urged Lochhead to have “the courage to stand up for the industry” in the final Scottish CAP package.
In a no-holds-barred statement, SBA chairman Scott Henderson also called on beef producers to continue to make their voices heard in order to secure a workable future for the Scotch Beef brand, saying: “It was clear from our meeting with the cabinet secretary that he was still sitting on the fence and the longer the decision takes the more nervous we become.
“However, there are still measures available which would be less damaging, Lochhead just needs the ‘balls’ to use them.
“If he doesn’t he may well be remembered as the man who finished Scotch beef.”